APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY (AI) and How it can benefit you…

Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Sticky Pad

I’m really excited by the thinking behind Appreciative Inquiry and the huge potential for positive change. Like so many people, I have spent my working life in surroundings where fault is sought. Pick fault, despite the best efforts of people/staff/managers. “Yes but” is a familiar phrase.

David Cooperrider viewed organisational change differently. AI is a way of looking at organisational change which focuses on doing more of what is already working, rather than focusing on fixing problems. A fundamental assumption of AI is; ‘in every situation, something works’. We are inclined to look for the failings in something rather than celebrate what we’ve done well. Acting from the assumption that something is working makes it more likely that we will find it. Alternatively, problem solving focuses on deficits, (deficiencies) and by its nature tends to ignore positives.

We can make another assumption for AI at this stage; ‘the act of focusing on the positives, influences the outcome’. I like psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s research into the value of positive emotions, which shows that people who feel positive are able to think more strategically, they are more compassionate, more creative, more resilient, more socially connected, making better decisions and having better health. Crikey!

Another assumption?  Yes please. Assumption number 3 then. ‘We have more confidence in the future when we carry forward the achievements of the past’.  It makes sense to start the change process with what is valuable and already working well, and to base change on doing more of what works.

It is much easier to construct a future vision when it is based on memories of positive experiences, rather than starting with a blank canvas and attempting to come up with something from scratch.

The traditional approach to Change Management or Organisational Development is to look for the problems, do a diagnosis, and then look for the solutions. This approach amplifies problems and draws energy away from creative thinking and innovative work. Which side of the table below do you want to operate in ……

Deficiency or deficit-based?

Appreciative Inquiry?

  • Begins with critique of failure
  • Begins with celebration of success
  • Closes down real conversations
  • Invites conversations about what really matters
  • Makes people defensive about being found out
  • Makes people more open about what needs to be done
  • Weakens morale
  • Strengthens resilience
  • Diagnosis of problem as if from a detached viewpoint
  • Looking at what’s working well—as a participant
  • Focuses on the causes of problems
  • Focus on organisation at its best
  • Moving away from that particular problem
  • Moving towards the best future for the organisation
  • Slow!
  • Builds energy fast.
  • Assumes organisations are constellations of problems to be overcome
  • Assumes organisations are sources of vitality, creativity, capacity and imagination